Since the Rays last saw the Blue Jays, Toronto has gone 4-7, taking two from Boston and clobbering two games against the Giants. The Jays scored 36 runs over those four wins before returning to their anemic ways for two games in New York...
Since the Rays last saw the Blue Jays, Toronto has gone 4-7, taking two from Boston and clobbering two games against the Giants. The Jays scored 36 runs over those four wins before returning to their anemic ways for two games in New York.
The Rays have posted seven wins in the same time frame, including two more games than Toronto has played, and the team is riding a 9-11 win streak dating back to May 8th and 9th against the Jays. A rainout of Game 3 spared Toronto from a sweep and has pushed R.A. Dickey into today's starting role at Rogers Centre.
It's been a tough road for Tampa Bay; they are facing AL East opponents in 16-of-19 consecutive games this month, which began with a roller-coaster defeat at the hands of the Jays on Monday, May 6th. Yet after a sweep of Baltimore in Camden Yards, the Rays are riding a wave of energy flying into Canada for this three-game series.
The Rays play an interesting set of times this week: today at 1:07 thanks to a regional holiday (Victoria Day!), a normal slot Tuesday at 7:07, and an early start Wednesday at 4:37. The Rays will then have a day to fly home before facing the Yankees in two-of-three day games as well - including a 4:10 start on Saturday, and the usual 1:40 for Sunday.
But that's later - here's to hoping the Rays can keep their offense together during the awkward sleep schedules. Per Fox Sports, the Blue Jays are 12th in the American League in runs per game, next-to-last in rotation ERA (ahead of the Astros), and 10th in bullpen ERA.
R.A. Dickey v Jake Odorizzi
Out of routine this week, Jake Odorizzi gets the nod in David Price's stead after a strained triceps and a bout with many allergies landed our Cy Young on the disabled list. The Odor faces R.A. Dickey, who has yet to succumb to back and neck injuries, but has suffered a 3-5 record, 4.83 ERA, and 4.81 FIP in nine games.
Dickey's biggest problem mirrors what Price was facing, with a different twist: lost velocity. Dickey isn't known for spitting fire like Price, but he does have two knuckleballs to his name. He calls them "fast" and "slow" knuckleballs, and the "fast" one has lost its edge. Two MPH, in fact.
Here's the heavy lifting Eno Sarris already put together on Dickey's velocity on the knuckler over his career:
Because speed does not affect trajectory for the knuckleball, Dickey is still generating swings and misses with an impressive 10.2% whiffs, but he's having issues finding the strike zone as often, and losing nearly five points on his Zone percentage (46.8% in 2013). If I may make a connection, a lack of speed seems to have led to more wary control - which is funny, considering Dickey has become one of the fastest working pitchers in baseball.
This wouldn't be such a problem if Dickey was still getting batters to swing outside the zone at last year's rates. After earning 34.5% swings with the Knuckle outside in 2012, that rate has fallen to 24.5% at a quarter of the way through the season. Making matters a bit worse, Dickey's O-contact% is up 5% on the knuckle as well. In other words, not as many batters are afraid to go after the butterfly-pitch as they were last year, and this too could be a direct result of lost velocity. A split second longer to watch the ball float is enough to take a pitcher from Cy Young to Ricky Romero in no time at all.
Still, this is R.A. Dickey. In his most recent start Dickey struck out ten San Francisco Giants, going 6.0 innings over 115 pitches. He earned 15 whiffs on the knuckle, threw 62% for strikes, and touched 79 MPH, so the Cy may still be lurking. Against Tampa Bay, that extra day of rest from yesterday's rainout in New York may come in handy.
Ramon Ortiz v Alex Cobb
Old man Ortiz will take the mound for Toronto in Game 2. The 39 year old Dominican has played three games this season, starting two and posting four strikeouts in that time. He pitched for the Tampa Yankees last season, never breaking out of Triple-A and featuring a 3.45 ERA